…a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.

“I know he had an object and it was dark, and he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out I, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.”

Those are the words of a scared man. A man who is explaining why he shot another man. The words of a police officer who shot a man. A man he pulled over for his taillight being out. A black man who was out driving with his family. A black man who then did what he was supposed to do and told the officer he had a gun permit and had a gun in the car. Seconds later the officer shot him because the officer thought he was gonna die.

If you haven’t watch the police dash cam footage of the Philando Castile shooting, you should. White people, black people, red people, blue people. Everyone should watch it. It’s scary. Not because of the violence and death of Castile, but in how quickly the officer goes from a friendly tone saying “hey you got a light out” to fearing for his life because Castile tells him that he is legally armed. His fear seems to rocket up because it turns out he pulled over an armed black man. (Note that he reaches for his gun the moment Castile mentions being armed.)

It seems that many officers fear for their life upon meeting someone else that is armed, particularly if that person is of color. We are considerably less concerned with armed white men who blatantly use the threat of violence to get what they want (you do remember Y’all Qaeda and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff right?). We are willing to give them some space and “respect their rights.” But a black man clearly does not get the same right because an armed black man inspires fear in people including many police officers. Even if he is just out for a drive with his family and was stopped as a courtesy about his brake lights.

I’ve grown up around guns my whole life. I’m a former NRA member (I gave up on them about the same time George H.W. Bush gave back his lifetime membership.) Rule number one that I was taught (by cops!) was that you should always let an officer know that you are legally armed. Clearly, this only goes for white folks. But to be honest, now I’m a bit worried too.

I have known a bunch of cops in different agencies and types of places throughout my life including now. Most of them are really good people. But what I’ve noticed over the years is that they have become more and more sacred. More and more convinced that they have to shoot first or they won’t make it home. More of an “us or them” mentality. When talking about even the most mundane situations, they switch to language I associate with war in foreign countries even when they aren’t veterans.

I have yet to figure out what has changed in our culture in the last 20 years that has made our officers so scared. The 1980s cop movies were Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, and Dirty Harry. And CHiPs and Hill Street Blues were on tv. Then suddenly we had Colors. But the 1990s had lone cop movies like Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. And NYPD Blue was on tv. But then back to the Colors-esque genre of Training Day, End of Watch, The Departed, etc. Even the tv shows about cops now days reflect this change with mass shootouts and over the top adrenaline in every show. Some of this reflected a growing population of heavily armed drug gangs, particularly in urban environments but the societal impact was much wider.

My anecdotal-based hypothesis is that we are attracting a different type of person to being in law enforcement today and cultivating a different mindset among our officers. We used to attract people who were interested in solving and preventing crime first and foremost. People who lived in and were vested in their community. People who saw policing as a mental exercise to help their community. Now, many of the newer officers seem to be primarily interested in just being a bad ass, wanting respect “for the badge,” and constantly seeking that adrenaline rush of confrontation. Therefore, I hear older officers lament how the newer ones don’t bother with the non-adrenaline stuff like paperwork, cold cases, and non-violent crime. (And the officers who do those things are looked down on.)

Maybe both of these types were always there. Maybe in the past, law enforcement did a better job of self-regulation to control for these things. But most of the questionable shootings done by officers today seem to come from this newer generation of officers. I’ve not floated this theory among my law enforcement friends. But when I talk to that older generation about the younger ones, I see the often silent acknowledgement that things have changed even if they can’t put their finger on it.

How do we change this? How do we reverse this trend as a society? There is no one solution. Part of it is internal to the law enforcement community. Another part of it is on us. I think law enforcement officers need a wider breadth of experience before becoming law enforcement. They need more time with the general public, outside their own comfort bubble. More time spent around people who are different from them – socially, economically, culturally, racially, etc.

One system already in place to do this is higher education. We could actually require college degrees for law enforcement. A 2010 study from Police Quarterly found that officers with a college education are less likely to resort to use of force compared to those without a degree. Nationally, the rate of officers with a degree is very low. Stats vary widely but I’ve not see any above 40%. This isn’t new. In the 1960s, the federal government studies of law enforcement were recommending bachelor’s degrees.

I also think we need to change the system. Taking 2-3 years for someone to go from job application to officer on patrol is a lot of time. During that time, we need to find ways to build in this cross-cultural experience. They need to work in the community and get to know people. We also need to diversify our police officers as much as possible and building in programs that support applicants from underrepresented groups in the population.

Lastly, “I felt threatened” can’t remain as a blanket defense for police officers in a court of law. It isn’t considered justifiable for the military or those working overseas, so why do we allow it as a justification for police officers in the US. It isn’t even a universal justification for non-police officers despite some notable cases like Trayvon Martin (where again, his biggest threat was being a black male.)

In order to reduce their fear, we need to get rid of the “us and them” mentality both among police officers and among underrepresented groups. They need to come from the community. They need to understand the community. They need to be part of the community. Then maybe getting pulled over for a brake light being out and mentioning you are a legal gun owner won’t seem like a threat to an officers life.

 

 

Shouting people down is not the same as free speech

I have watched it play out on campus after campus this past year. And it has begun to creep into off-campus protests and events as well including local government meetings and civic events. Somewhere along the way, we have confused shouting people down with free speech. When it is rather the opposite. It is suppression. I am specifically talking about the idea that free speech means being allowed to stand in someone’s face and scream at them or disrupt and shut down an event.

Let me set a ground rule before I start. I don’t believe all ideas are equally valid. I don’t even think all ideas are worth giving air time to or listening too. However, all people, have a right to their own ideas. They have a right to gather together and discuss their ideas with like minded people. And to a certain extent, the government should not be involved in suppressing those rights. In fact, this is the very thing the has built progressive America into what it is today. I have an even bigger concern when the legislatures start weighing in with free speech bills and legislation that are clearly punitive to one side or idea.

The majority of the context I am speaking about is with higher education. Let me begin by telling you a secret. [whispers] There are conservative students, faculty, and staff in higher education. And that’s okay. A certain vocal minority within the left has convinced themselves that higher education, particularly large, public, liberal arts colleges, are bubbles of pure untouched left wing thinkers whose only limitation is the moderately left leaning administration.

Then when some small conservative group (or any group with an idea they find questionable) gets together – regardless of cause – they immediately want to hound them, suppress them, shout them down, and drive them from campus. This is not freedom of speech nor the free exchange of ideas. This is mob mentality, intimidation, and suppression. This is not what we claim our institutions value.

Three years ago, at my nearby college, the largest campus religious group invited a nationally known anti-GLBT speaker. The speaker is a strong advocate of being able to “pray the gay away”. Almost no one noticed. This year, that same group, has noticeably limited their advertisements about who they are inviting and has actually started employing security for their meetings. The largest. campus. religious. group.

This sort of “majority rules” “mob-intimidation mentality” that forces people to think and act like the majority wants them to act is dangerous – be it left, right, up, or down. And the truth is that it isn’t really a majority. It is another minority (for now). But it is a minority to whom the largely left-of-center campus is sympathetic. And as such, few seem to perceive the danger in this and many are willing to tolerate it. Though few are around to actually watch when dozens of shouting people surround one or two lone people and scream them down. The intimidation and fear is real and intentional. But afterwards and beforehand, the crowd wants to label it “free speech.”

I worry about this as the military has previously been a target of visceral free speech. The Martin Niemöller statement of “First they came for the socialists….” sticks in my head. So now, me, a social liberal, religious progressive, and social justice advocate, has to say we’re going too far. (Maybe it’s not “too far,” maybe it is just the wrong direction?)

I was proud of our local college when they did not let an invited speaker get suppressed by those who proudly boasted of their intent to disrupt the event and shut it down. Even though some students, faculty, and locals made it cost a fortune and made it get ugly. Yes, I found myself being proud that we let a conservative speaker with some ideas that resound of racism and bias come speak. That part hurts I admit. I’m not proud that we invited him but I’m proud that our students who invited him were able to hear him. I was not proud that some in our community’s plan to protest it was to shut it down. Too often the majority has ruled by intimidation and suppression. We can’t allow this to be the way our emerging progressive majority acts if want to claim to be inclusive.

Some observations on attraction, love, and complications

I have seen a lot of relationships over the years. In this case I’m talking about those intimate relationships we voluntarily enter into with a significant other, a spouse, a partner, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it. As someone interested in the behavior of humans, I’ve often thought of mine and others relationships as an active research lab to examine what makes relationships work and what doesn’t. Here is a preliminary report.

The way I see it, attraction generally falls into three categories. There is physical attraction. Sometimes we call this lust or “chemistry.” You have probably had folks tell you about this. They said something like “She was hot so I decided to talk to her.” Or “I saw this guy run by without his shirt on and it made me want to take up running.” My personal favorite “I just wanted to stare into those eyes all night…..and into the morning.” All of these denote little to no interaction with the person that tells anything about the person’s personality, intelligence, or your ability to connect with them. It is purely physical.

The second kind of attraction is emotional. If you’ve been through something traumatic, dramatic, or growth experience with a person, you may feel a bond with them. This bond is similar to friends who we’ve been through a lot of stuff with or family, but maybe in ways that differ because this person likely volunteered for this emotional journey with you. It’s the reason you still sort of smile when you think about your first crush or first significant other. The longer your are with someone, the more likely you are to have these experiences (especially growth).

It’s a bit of an extreme example but a friend, we’ll call her Jane, was dating someone who we will call Steve, and her mom died suddenly. It was very traumatic for her but Steve was there for her. For many years, Jane’s main building block of their relationship was that Steve was “there for her” when her mom died. Yet, neither was particularly physically attracted to one another or intellectually attracted so the relationship eventually fell apart. She still brings up what a “nice guy” Steve was and wonders if she should have stayed with him despite the lack of the other two attractions.

The third kind of attraction is intellectual. This doesn’t mean you have to be PhDs in the same field. What this means is that you have respect for each others intellectual pursuits and interests. These may be hobbies or work related. This doesn’t mean that you “endure” your significant other rambling on about some concept you only vaguely understand or “live with” the fact that they have a car/boat/plane/pet that consumes a bunch of their time. It means you actively try to learn a little about it. You ask questions. You engage them and encourage them because seeing them get excited about it makes you both happy. This also means people often end their relationships when they don’t see their partner as having any compatible intellectual attractions. “Oh you want to stay home all day playing video games instead of getting a job. Well then, I’m leaving.”

All of these attractions have to be a two way street. If they are only one-way, that won’t work either. You both have to have some amount of all three for the other person. (i.e. you can’t value the video games/car/boat/plane/pet more than the relationship for very long and be successful.)

Love is often confused with any one of these attractions. The one most of us can relate to is physical attraction. At some point, there was likely some Hollywood star, musician, or maybe someone you actually knew who you were attracted to. And then at some point, you saw an interview with them or read something about them, and you were like “ewww” maybe I don’t like them as much now. Because you didn’t actually know them well enough to have intellectual attraction or have experiences with them for emotional attraction, it was purely one dimensional. You said you were “in love” with them but actually you were “in lust” with them.

Love is a combination of all three of these kinds of attraction. They don’t have to be equal parts but there has to be some amount of each. If you hate your significant other’s passions/interests then you will always hate it when they engage in them. Eventually you will see their passions as competition to your relationship. If you have no emotional connection, you will seek that with friends who will be seen as competition to the relationship. And lastly, if you aren’t physically attracted to one another, then the you have a friendship but not a relationship. None of these are mutually exclusive bubbles. They overlap with one another in many ways but each seems to be an essential element that must be present.

But we are human. So there are complications. Love is also something that develops, matures, and grows over time through these three things and through experience and time together. Love needs a relationship. Love and relationships are overlapping bubbles but not the same. (Relationships – of all kinds – take maintenance. Which is a post for another time.) Many people get trapped in a fantasy where they build up these things as existing more than they actually did in some past or future relationship. But without the intimacy (not sexual but personal) of spending time together, growing together, experiencing each other together, it is just fantasy.

Another complication is that we can tell when we don’t have these things but we can’t objectively measure love or attraction. We can’t realistically compare these things in a non-partisan way. As Jane once said, “How can I compare my [physical attraction] for George Clooney with my [emotional attraction] to my boyfriend? I want both.” Yes Jane, you do want both. In fact, you want three things. Godspeed on finding all of them in one person.

Thoughts on War and Peace

Firefighters regularly go door to door or to community events to talk to people about fire safety and to install smoke detectors. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Police officers go out to schools and community events to explain the laws and educate people about them. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Search and rescue professionals go out and teach kids and adults how not to get lost or get hurt. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Emergency room doctors go out and speak to the public about the dangers of drunk driving. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

So why is it so weird in our culture that a soldier might to out and promote peace in the hopes of having to do their job less often? Why do we assume that if one is in the business of war, they are pro-war and anti-peace. No one accuses the fire fighter of being pro-fire or the doctor of being pro-injury.

I easily admit there are folks in the military who are pro-war. Often on some quest to prove their toughness, avenge a perceived wrong, or simply to see if they can do it. There are those in all these fields who have a misguided desire for hero status.

Case in point #1, a reserve soldier I know recently said on social media in response to someone commenting about concealed carry laws: “I don’t carry a gun because I want to shoot people. That’s crazy. I carry a gun so I have the option of protecting myself, my family or the weak and innocent from the forces of evil.” Admittedly, I’m not sure how much “evil” lives in his small rural Midwestern town.

Case in point #2, a police officer I know who has a hard time walking away from his job. When he is off duty he still reads emails and listens to his radio and then laments that he wasn’t there “on that bust” or “on that call.” As opposed to lamenting that it had to happen in the first place and spending his free time trying to keep it from happening.

But the folks with this pro-hero mentality aren’t all or even most of the people I’ve encountered. The problem is, we let them dominate the conversation. We in the military and first responder community let those folks get away with spouting off those things. And then we begin to think that we are the minority. And then we start to think that those of us who are perfectly happy only having to use our skills as a last resort are the few and far between. We aren’t. We are the silent majority.

That impacts how other people see us outside of our agency as well. The military is the worst about it because so many veterans claim to speak for the the entire military and say absurdly pro-war things. The the anti-war veterans remain quiet. Or worse yet, some of the biggest pro-peace, anti-war advocates I know, are veterans but don’t mention their veteran status and don’t include it in their biographical info. Because they too have succumb to this idea of thinking they are a minority. And they think it will detract from their message.

We need to change this thinking. We need more military leaders who say “this war isn’t a good idea” to the President, Congress, and public. We need more military folks invested, passionate, trained, and leading in the peace process. How do you expect to establish peace with a bunch of folks that only know war and don’t see peace as part of their job? The principles of establishing a lasting peace have to be part of the conduct of war not the opposite of it.

“Good policing” can not be based on the number of arrests. It has to be based on the lack of crime.

“Good war” can not be based on the number of kills. It has to be based on the lasting peace.

Why no one, let alone a U.S. state, should celebrate Confederate Memorial Day

Let’s talk about the “heritage” that comes with the Confederacy. A failed, four-year attempt at establishing a nation based on the enslavement of black people. The succession documents and speeches of the leaders are very clear that slavery is the heart of the issue. Mississippi said: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” (source)

If you have been fooled into believing that the Confederacy was about “state’s rights” you are not only historically illiterate, you also don’t understand state’s rights. The “state’s rights” that were at stake related slavery. And even then, it was a fear — a fear — not a forgone fact, that slavery would be ended by the federal government. Racism in the North meant that slavery probably would have existed (though not expanded) for sometime still.

The primary complaint of the states that succeeded was that non-slave states were not returning their runaway slaves to them. Those states were not doing it because they had laws that didn’t recognize people as property. Therefore, there was no property to be returned.

If you argue state’s rights was the issue think about this. Hand gun laws, marijuana laws, and umpteen other laws are not universal in the US. The right of states to set their own laws is still in place. So clearly the issue wasn’t a state having their laws trumped by the feds. In fact, the constitution supported slavery. The state’s rights issue concerned if a state was obligated to search for and return escaped slaves to another state. Southern states wanted their stolen property returned (even if it ran off on its own). Northern state’s did’t view people as property. So which state’s right was at stake?

The other state’s rights issue, which likely has a better argument but brought up much less often, was that the federal government was outlawing slavery in new territories and determining which new states would be slave and which would be free. As opposed to allowing the residents of those territories and states to decide if they would be free or slave. I’m no constitutional law scholar, but yes, one could argue that might have been overreach on their part to dictate what the laws would be in those states without consent of the governed. However, the argument among the pro-slavery extremists was that since the Constitution recognized slavery, it didn’t matter what people there voted for, all of the US had to recognize slavery. Hence a constitutional amendment was later necessary.

So let’s not memorialize and celebrate the Confederacy. That four-year failed attempt at establishing a pro-slavery nation. There are so many wonderful things about Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. I’ve lived in those states. I know they have some wonderful pieces of their history that have nothing to do with the Confederacy. Let’s celebrate the total history of those states from their start through now and not just the four year peak of racism.

 

Is your church a photograph or a movie?

For some folks, church is what it is the moment they joined it. At that moment they agree to accept it and it accepts them. Very few people join a church for “where it is going.” People join a church for “where it is” socially, culturally, theologically, spiritually, and physically at that moment. From that point on, any change, difference of opinion, or adaptation to circumstances means a derivation of what they agreed to on the day they joined. And if all parties don’t agree, then obviously they have the option of leaving. No one is forced to stay. That includes the fact that as church culture, doctrine, or social issues change over time, they resist that change.

I like to think of that moment as a photograph. A beautiful photograph capturing a special moment when you joined the church. A moment now locked in time and not able to be changed. And a picture is further limited. You can’t look just outside the frame or see what is going on behind the camera. You don’t see what else was happening or people who weren’t in the picture. Nothing comes or goes from a picture.

 We need to stop dwelling on those photographs. We need to change this mentality. The memories are beautiful, informative, and fun to reminisce about but their limitations put limits on us. We need to think of our church as a movie. We need to start filming movies. We need to tell stories over time with actors. There may even occasionally be a plot twist. Your opinions of characters, ideas, and sub-plots change as the movie goes on. A movie is constantly full of new revelations about characters, places, and sub-plots often from places outside of the view of the first camera angle. And new characters, new scenes, and new issues come into the script.

Our goal should be that the church is constantly moving. Our members are all actors in the story, not bystanders or extras. We all need to take a role and help work on the plot and work towards a happy ending. Use the photographs to reflect and tell the backstory in the movie but don’t spend the whole movie staring at them.

 Pictures are worth a thousand words but they are words locked in time. When we constantly try to keep only that first photograph as our view of the church, we not only limit the church, we limit ourselves and our own opportunities for growth.

Permission to speak freely?

What is free speech? I mean, we use that term all the time. I’m sure there is some legal definition somewhere that almost nobody knows. In pop culture, we think it is some guy standing on a street corner protesting the nuclear bombs or the right to write whatever you want in a blog and post it on the internet. That’s free speech right?

Is free speech an action or a concept? Is it a social construct? Is it subject to change, interpretation, and more importantly – situational?

Is yelling “fire” in a crowded theater free speech? What about yelling “bomb” on a plane? If you have a gun in your hand and yell “I’m going to kill you!” at someone, is that free speech?

If you and I both have something to say that opposes each other, do we both have a right to say it? What if one of us intimidated the other into not speaking? Were someone’s rights infringed there? What if one of us just shouts over the other is that still free speech? If I bring my friends to help me shout over you?

Does free speech protect a minority opinion? Was it what protected the civil rights movement? Abolitionists? Does it protect the Klan and Neo-Nazis? How minority of an opinion can it be and still be protected?

If we say that we are open to all, and one of those all espouses an opinion we don’t agree with, are we open to all? Or are we only open to those whose speech doesn’t offend us? If we are only open to speech that doesn’t offend us, is that really free speech?

Does a group have a right to invite whoever they want to speak to the group? Is that free speech? Does religion matter? What if it is a religious view we totally disagree with? A political view we totally disagree with? If the group is threatened by those who want to shut down their opinions and views, do we as a community have a right to defend them and support them?

At what point does majority rule and over ride your freedom of speech?